Red Seas under Red Skies – Scott Lynch

This second book in the Gentlemen Bastards series was something of a letdown, at least in the beginning: having thoroughly enjoyed the first volume, The Lies of Locke Lamora, I expected to be just as thrilled with Red Seas Under Red Skies, but for the first half of this book it was not so. This second installment takes a while to finally find its legs, and that happens only when Locke and Jean, the surviving members of the Gentlemen Bastards, meet with pirate Zamira Drakasha’s crew and the adventure begins in earnest.

Until then, Mr. Lynch’s story seems to wander in several directions, as if in search of its identity: the only reason I stayed with it was that I wanted to trust the author on the basis of the first book’s strength and innovative storytelling – luckily for me, that trust paid off in the end, even though it was a close call.

One of the book’s saving graces comes of course from its main characters: the interplay between Locke and Jean both defines them as persons and expands on the story. Here they are often at odds with each other: the loss of their comrades, Locke’s fall into depression and Jean’s efforts to carry them both forward until they can recover from that loss, all contribute to a friction that explodes at times into dangerous conflict. Yet their friendship – the bond of kinship that goes well beyond mere association to become true brotherhood – comes out of those pitfalls stronger than ever.

The pirate society – or rather the microcosm aboard the Poison Orchid, the ship where our heroes become full-fledged raiders – is wonderfully described and quite vivid: Drakasha is a memorable character, a pirate captain who is a middle-aged woman and a mother, but at the same time a ruthless brigand and a fair, level-headed commander. Her second Ezri is also a strong female character, but sadly she gets less development than Drakasha, since her function seems to be there merely as Jean’s love interest, and she finally shines through only toward the end in a dramatic scene that loses nothing of its potency even as the reader realizes that events were tailored to bring that ending about.

After the shaky beginning I mentioned the plot does gain speed and proceeds toward the end in a satisfactorily adventurous way, but still I feel that it lacks the spirited quality of the first book, that the author somehow felt the pressure to deliver that followed the debut novel in this series and this hampered his style in some way.

Nonetheless, the misgivings I listed are not enough to stop me from going on reading – not in the least because this second book closes with a huge cliffhanger that I can’t wait to see resolved…

My rating: 6.5/10

13 thoughts on “Red Seas under Red Skies – Scott Lynch

  1. That does sound like an interesting book. His books often do. Unfortunately, the swearing in his forst book got to me all too quickly. {wince, rueful look} I just couldn't stomach it enough to keep going. {wistful smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin


  2. If the swearing is a problem for you, then I'm afraid this second book is even worse than the first one…

    It's not something that bothers me, when it's kept within certain limits, but I understand how it would be distracting: we all have our little individual “triggers”, after all!


  3. Like you, swearing is usually okay with me within particular limits. It's just that some swear words bother me more than others. Scott Lynch used some swear words that bother me more liberally than I can handle. {spread hands, apologetic Smile}


  4. It's something that happens to everyone. What bothers me, more than a particular kind of word, are… repeat offenders, so to speak: I read a book once where the word “smirk” appeared with annoying frequency – I counted them, and they averaged to 2,2 smirks per page.
    Now, every time I see that word, I break out in a rash LOL LOL
    You might say I've developed acute sensitivity to it… 😀


  5. I think those bother me, too… but swear words tend to be repeat offenders for me. Fortunately, if I become sensitized to swearing, leaving it alone for a few books reduces my sensitivity somewhat. Not perfectly, but then I'm always somewhat sensitive to it. {Smile}


  6. P.S. Sensitivity would explain why some words don't make me blink. If I haven't been around people who use certain words, they might as well be made-up swear words as far as I'm concerned. Others… I've heard entirely too much. {lop-sided Smile}


  7. I have a theory of sorts about higher or lower sensitivity to certain words (be they “real” or made up for a particular imagined world): if the reader feels that the words in question are used to stress some point, or to define a certain character's attitude, then they tend to fade into the background.
    While swear words used – more or less liberally – as a means to “shock” the reader, or to demonstrate the writer's “gritty” writing, become much more visible – so to speak – and have a deeper effect on the reader.

    My 2 cents… 🙂


  8. I think you have a very good point. The swear words I'm most sensitive to are used for their shock value. Actually, the words I'm most sensitive to are the ones speakers use for their shock value in real life, too. When writers use those for their shock value… I'm actually not sure what happens, but it bothers me a lot more than when writers make up words, or use words that may be very offensive indeed elsewhere, but aren't used that way where I live. {Smile}

    Made up swear words can't bother me that way, but they can be used frequently enough to get the same reaction “smirk” got from you. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin


  9. {Chuckle}

    Part way thru Tanya Huff's _No Quarter_, I felt the same way about “slaughtering.” That was the only curse the main character ever used, and she swore a lot. Fortunately, switching to another book mostly cleansed my palate, so to speak. I'm nervous about going back to that author and series because of the over-use of too few made-up swear words, but I can usually encounter that word used descriptively without wincing. {Smile, wink}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin


  10. Yeah, I guess I am lucky there. It would be annoying if I couldn't stand the word in any context. There's so many war novels where it's all too appropriate. I know that's why Huff used it, but… a little more variety, please, even if that's not always realistic. (I once heard a kid use the f-word over half a dozen times in one paragraph. He didn't mention any other swear words at all. This was real life, so you can't claim it wasn't realistic, but it was still badly over-saturated. It didn't mean anything any more, not even shock value. The only shocking part about it was the lack of variety. {wry half-smile}


  11. Yes, you did indeed touch on the main problem – lack of variety.
    Be it everyday speech or a novel we're reading, I think we are entitled to strive for a wider range of words – that's why Thesaurus and Spell Checker are my bravest knights in shining armor! LOL

    Jokes aside, a lack of variety in speech patterns and/or in writing would seem to point at a lack of… imagination, I guess, or laziness – or both. And this discussion helped me to understand that my irritation with the infamous smirk is just the tip of the iceberg for everything that did not work in that particular book….


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